A grant to a researcher at The Jackson Laboratory will further research into Alzheimer's disease. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Grant supports Alzheimer’s research

BAR HARBOR — A five-year grant totaling nearly $2.7 million will fund studies of the complex processes involved in both healthy aging and Alzheimer’s disease, in the laboratory of Jackson Laboratory Assistant Professor Catherine Kaczorowski.


“Normal cognitive aging and the memory decline of Alzheimer’s disease appear to share molecular pathways,” Kaczorowski said. “So we expect that by identifying genetic factors and mechanisms underlying normal aging, we will find targets for intervention against Alzheimer’s.”

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects more than five million people in the United States. The vast majority of cases start late in life and vary widely in progression and severity across the population. This variation, Kaczorowski said, has made it difficult to pin down the genetic risk factors and mechanisms of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have very little molecular and functional data from patients at the earliest stages of the disease, before cognitive symptoms appear,” she said. “Moreover, the picture is made even more complicated by all the environmental factors – from diet and exercise to economic status and education level – that may affect Alzheimer’s susceptibility.” For example, other Jackson Laboratory researchers have established that the so-called Western diet (high in fat and sugar) contributes to the development of peripheral inflammation in the brain, which may be associated with greater susceptibility to Alzheimer’s disease.

The Kaczorowski lab works with mice that model some of the genetic complexity of human populations. The researchers will measure memory function across lifespan (at 6, 12 and 18 months of age). They will then identify gene variants that appear to protect against cognitive decline in the high performers, as well as those involved in memory decline among the poor performers.

“Identifying novel genetic factors and mechanisms of memory decline will be a critical first step toward developing treatments and personalized gene therapies to maintain cognitive function in elderly humans.” Kaczorowski said. “And they would also have the tremendous potential to provide biomarkers for earlier detection of Alzheimer’s, which may mean more effective treatment in Alzheimer’s patients.”

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